Coronavirus: Epidemiologist urges Government to make wearing masks in public compulsory at alert level 2

One of New Zealand's leading epidemiologists who is advising the Government says it should be compulsory to wear face masks in public at COVID-19 alert level 2. 

Professor Michael Baker from Otago University's Department of Public Health says if we don't wear them, we risk a spike in cases and returning to level 4. 

"Everyone should be wearing a fabric mask over their nose and mouth. This is completely different from the masks that people wear in healthcare settings."

He says a simple homemade mask like a scarf or bandana is all that would be required. 

"I think it should be mandatory in all of these venues where people have close contact in indoor environments."

Baker wants to see it become compulsory for anyone inside a public venue such as a bar, restaurant, cafe or cinema, and also on public transport. But it wouldn't be required if you're at the beach or park. 

He believes if everyone has to wear a mask then it reduces the stigma attached to it since we're all in the same situation.

He says the latest evidence overwhelmingly shows the virus is spread indoors and by everyday contact.

"Just talking, laughing, conversing, all the things we want to do in these indoor environments is very good at transmitting the virus, so we need another barrier."    

The countries that have had the most success combatting COVID-19 - such as Taiwan - have all made wearing face masks in public compulsory. 

In the past week, Germany and Spain have also made them mandatory to wear in public as both countries begin to come out of their lockdowns.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says he would wear one. 

"It's not a matter of volunteering, it's sound and wise and I'm on a plane, I'll wear one… It's essential and at level 1 and 2, it's more essential than ever before." 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will outline what level 2 will look like on Thursday, and an announcement will be made on Monday on whether New Zealand is moving to this level.